The endothelium plays a pivotal role in modulating the reactivity of vascular smooth muscle through the formation of several vasoactive substances. We examined the effects of endothelium-dependent and independent vasodilators on forearm blood flow in 29 patients with Type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus and in 21 control subjects, using venous occlusion plethysmography. Via a brachial artery cannula, increasing amounts of acetylcholine and glyceryl trinitrate were infused in doses of 60, 120, 180 and 240 mmol per min and 3, 6 and 9 nmol per min respectively. NG monomethyl-L-arginine, a stereospecific inhibitor of endothelium derived relaxing factor, was infused to inhibit basal and stimulated release of this dilator substance. Reactive hyperaemic forearm blood flow did not differ between groups. Forearm blood flow responses to each dose of acetylcholine were significantly greater in control than diabetic subjects (p less than 0.01 for all doses). NG monomethyl-L-arginine attenuated forearm blood flow from maximal stimulated values when responses were compared with the natural decline to acetylcholine in forearm flow in both control and diabetic subjects (p less than 0.05 for both groups), but had no effect on basal blood flow responses. Forearm blood flow responses to each dose of glyceryl trinitrate were significantly greater in control than diabetic subjects (p less than 0.05 for all). These data provide evidence for endothelial and smooth muscle dysfunction in diabetes which may have important therapeutic implications.